Supercomputers in our backyard

Magnus supercomputer, courtesy the Pawsey Supercomputer Centre.

Magnus supercomputer, courtesy the Pawsey Supercomputer Centre.

Magnus supercomputer, courtesy the Pawsey Supercomputer Centre.

Linton Price, Reporter

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Sitting in the quiet south end of Kensington, South Perth, the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre houses some of the most powerful computers in the southern hemisphere. These machines are used in scientific research and are invaluable for the variety of services they offer, from analysis to data storage.

Pawsey runs monthly tours of the facility, in order to get the community involved by showcasing what goes on at the Centre.

NewsVineWA interviewed David Schibeci, Head of Supercomputing at Pawsey, to get some insight into what they do. Schibeci has over 10 years of experience working with supercomputers and has been involved with Pawsey since 2008, when the Centre was still named iVEC.

He explained that Pawsey is all about encouraging research across Australia, utilising the nation’s robust research infrastructure, Pawsey’s raw computing power and significant expertise to aid researchers from here and around the world. Pawsey supports various research fields including bioinformatics, energy, and radio astronomy, which has the “Galaxy” supercomputer (which has 64 GPUs and 9,440 cores) dedicated to it.

Pawsey offers a number of services to researchers, including data analysis, data storage, model simulation, and even visualisation for projects such as deep-sea exploration.

The most powerful machine at Pawsey is its general research computer, “Magnus”. Magnus has a staggering 35,712 cores, uses cutting edge technology and can operate at over 1 petaflop, a petaflop being one thousand million million floating-point operations per second.

“Simply put,” Schibeci said, “if you gave every person on Earth a hand calculator … to perform a function; what they do collectively, Magnus can perform in one second.”

Over the past year alone, Pawsey has worked on groundbreaking projects that have impacts worldwide. Thanks to the processing speed of the supercomputers, these projects can be completed with little idle time.

Schibeci described just a few of them.

“Carnegie Clean Energy uses Magnus to analyse the fluid dynamics of extreme waves to design a wave power system that can survive the damaging effects of severe weather conditions … to generate a clean source of electrical power … and desalinated water.

“Dr Carolyn McGregor of the University of Ontario is working with Pawsey’s cloud service, Nimbus, and big data analytics to protect and save the lives of premature babies. Data recorded on paper represents a fraction of what [medical monitors] read. What is not recorded simply disappears, risking the infant’s health and well-being.

“Dr Selam Ahderom and his colleagues at Edith Cowan University’s Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI), the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Photonic Detection Systems (PDS) are developing technology that uses artificial intelligence to discriminate between crops and weeds so herbicides only spray where it is cost effective to do so. This technology has the potential to reduce the amount of herbicide used in a field by up to 90%.”

If you’d like to learn more about Pawsey, the centre runs a monthly community tour, completely free and open to any members of the public. Registration is required and sadly the next tour on April 18 is fully booked, but spots are still open in the May 30 tour. The address is 26 Dick Perry Ave, Kensington.

Register on Pawsey’s website here.

“The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre want to show the Perth community what is sitting in their own backyard,” Schibeci said, and he added:

“We hope the families that visit the Centre during the community tours leave with an understanding of this research and the scale of its achievement and influence on our lives. We hope to inspire the children that come through the Centre to study … with the ambition to break boundaries in the future and leave their mark on the world, and to know that there are facilities in Perth, Australia and the world which will encourage and help them to do so.”


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About the Writer
Linton Price, Reporter
Linton is an aspiring writer, studying Writing and Journalism at Edith Cowan University. He wishes to pursue a career in online journalism with a focus on emergent technologies and the internet. Related
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Supercomputers in our backyard